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Cafetalk Tutor's Column

Tutor T Mun Yee 's Column

Just Me

May 27, 2023

Have a think about what's wrong with the following sentences:

          1. "Sorry to disturb you, I just want to ask if you're free to discuss <   >".

          2. "It's probably a stupid idea but can I just suggest that <  >".

Grammatically, both are good sentences. So, what's bothersome about them?

Well, Helen Appleby (Founder, Powerful Growth Group; Host, "The Unwritten Rules of Women's Leadership" podcast) suggests they are peppered with qualifiers that take away the power of the user.

In no. 1, I apologise although I've done no wrong. Then I reduce the importance of my request using "just".

As for no. 2, I've pre-marked my suggestion stupid before airing it and there's the value diminisher, "just" again.

They're great examples of leaky language, so called because they leak the user's power. In other words, they make the user sound weak, hesitant and junior.

How about simply coming out to say:

          1. "May I discuss <   >?"

          2. "I suggest that <   >."

Neither qualifiers nor leaky language present and I don't apologise for existing. Would you agree that these alternatives allow me to offer a suggestion or make a request in a way that is calm, graceful and polite?

In my view, there's no right or wrong to it. Some of our speaking tendencies may be culturally defined. Also, what we say and how we say it is shaped by context. I just <oops> believe it's fabulous to be free to choose what defines me and be supported by the appropriate language through awareness and practice.

Certainly, action speaks louder than words.


(Note: Have a listen to this BFM radio podcast featuring Helen Appleby)
BFM: The Business Station - Podcast The Unwritten Rules of Women’s Leadership

This column was published by the author in their personal capacity.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Cafetalk.

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